Sunday, June 9, 2019

Virus (2019)

Director: Aashiq Abu
Writers: Muhsin Parari, Sharfu, Suhas
DOP: Rajeev Ravi, Shyju Khalid
Cast: Revathy, Tovino Thomas, Parvathy, Indrajith, Soubin Shahir

Film recounts the details of the deadly 2018 Nipah Virus outbreak in Kerala which claimed lives of around two dozen people. The Nipah virus is very contagious with a very high death rate and it was happening in Kerala for the first time. There was every chance that it could turn into an epidemic considering Kerala's high population density but the medical community here along with the administrators were successful in containing it. The film basically recounts that story and is not focused on any particular protagonist. That is quite apt for the huge ensemble cast that was assembled for the film.

I am a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh's Contagion which also dealt with a virus outbreak like Nipah but on a global scale. I had seen some similarities to it in Ashiq Abu's previous film Maayanadhi (Kodaikanal scenes) in terms of shot visualisation and background music and was wondering whether he would use a similar approach here as well. That is not the case here because it wouldn't be realistic to take that approach when the central location for much of the film is Calicut Medical College. Contagion dealt with largely a what if scenario of such a global epidemic happening and how the society's functioning will get affected. We got a mini version of it in Kerala as Calicut city became a ghost town. Social exclusion of families affected happened and there was considerable fear in the two affected districts, Kozhikode and Malappuram.

Virus begins showing the everyday life of a medical college casualty in a riveting fashion and the busy nature sets the tone for the film. First half of the film depicts how it was diagnosed, it was an incredible feat that it was identified as Nipah from the second patient itself, and steps taken to monitor around 3000 people who came into contact with the initial patients. The bodies of those who died were not given back to the relatives and the challenges that the administration faced for cremation of it is also shown. Second half of the film deals with identifying how each of the patients were linked to establish how the virus got transmitted. Film takes a largely political tone in second half as you have the centre suggesting the possibility of a bio attack due to the religion of the index patient. I can see this aspect generating controversies in the coming days from the right wing dickheads for targeting them as well as from others for the logic of dedicating so much time for what then seemed like an internet phenomenon. It will be interesting to see if such a push did came from the centre and won't be too surprising. Anyway the makers have the licence to take creative liberties.

The original cut of the film was three hours long and they shaved 30 minutes off it for the theatrical release. You do see where it got the cuts as the Asif Ali storyline seemed quite half-baked. Overall the film works very well as a procedural without going into a semi documentary format. There are enough traits given for many of the characters from medical community to make it interesting and the administration characters are played largely in a matter of fact manner. A Nipah case was identified in Ernakulam last week but people seems to be dealing with it in a confident manner.

Rating: 4.25/5

Sunday, April 28, 2019

ഉയരെ (Uyare) (2019)

Director: Manu Ashokan
Writers: Bobby-Sanjay
DOP: Mukesh Muraleedharan
Cast: Parvathy, Asif Ali, Tovino Thomas, Siddique
Language: Malayalam

Uyare follows the story of a girl who wanted to be a pilot but ends up as an acid attack survivor when relationship with her boyfriend goes south. Asif Ali plays the role of overly possessive asshole boyfriend and Tovino is the bubbly CEO of an airline company in conflict with his businessman father.

It is ultimately a feel good film done very well. I am not really a big fan of films or roles that Parvathy does as they are generally about very unique situations and  unique characters that require 'hard-work' acting. This role or film is no different but the trailer was sufficiently interesting and reviews very favorable for me to check it out on the smallest screen in my town (100 seater). She is not that convincing in the college graduate phase of the story but for the rest of it she carries it easily. The makeups are really convincing and changes through time post the acid attack and subsequent years are also dealt with. The plane scenes and the outside atmosphere have been captured in sufficiently convincing manner without us feeling the cheapness that a normal Malayalam film budget would afford.

It also has the usual problems associated with Bobby-Sanjay films like middle class righteousness. Friend-father of female protagonists have become a cliche in these films with Siddique playing it here. Despite its minor flaws and convenient plot situations it is a pretty great watch overall. It generates enough teary eyed moments which is a sign that it worked.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Lucifer (2019)

Director: Prithviraj Sukumaran
Writer: Murali Gopi
DOP: Sujith Vasudev
Cast: Mohanlal, Vivek Oberoi, Manju Warrier, Tovino Thomas, Sai Kumar
Language: Malayalam

Film follows the events after the death of a chief minister and the succession drama that is precipitated by it.

Trailer of the film pretty much reveals what it is about. It is a mashup of several films from the past like Irupatham Noottandu and Ustad, but in a good way. It is not really about the plot but the quality of making on a technical level, narrative sureity and the performances from the huge ensemble cast whom all have got memorable roles and have been carefully cast. Expositions are cleverly done using the Facebook live from the Indrajith character. Prithviraj is usually one who talks the talk when it comes to his passion for making risky films but that is generally only seen in films he produces. He has been quite upfront about the nature of his feature film debut, stressing the fact that he is a Mohanl fanboy and the film will have things that will please his fans and that is pretty much what we get.

It is a mass commercial film that will please his fans and is a neatly made watchable film for the rest. Prithviraj is said to have ghost directed some of the films he has starred in the past and their shortcomings are also present here- primarily the length of it and a general lack of humour. It is only Baiju and Sai Kumar who provides some humour in it and that is just not enough for a movie of this genre with a running time close to three hours. Ustad, Aaram Thamburan and Big B, only ones that I like among films of these nature from recent times, had ample elements of humour to them. The first two action set pieces are done very well but the final one is bit of a letdown. BGMs work very well in some places and disappointing in the rest. Camerawork is uniformly excellent and specially loved the scale of the crowd scenes and that zoom out scene from that Mumbai slum, Danny Boyle like. It is a pretty good watch and has more nuances than the impression I got from the initial watch. The Russian scene, spectacularly done, adds a lot for the film.

PS: Kids will get the Irupatham Noottandu reference. Adults will get the Pulp Fiction reference. Legends will get the Wire reference.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, March 18, 2019

Triple Frontier (2019)

Director: J.C. Chandor
Writers: J.C. Chandor, Mark Boal
DOP: Roman Vasyanov
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal

Five former special forces operatives reunite to plan a heist in a sparsely populated multi-border zone of South America.

The film was originally supposed to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow with the likes of Johnny Depp attached. Then it got dropped and various actors like Mahershala Ali, Will Smith got attached with Paramount supposed to produce it. It again got shelved and finally Netflix acquired it with J.C. Chandor directing it. I am a fan of the director with films like Margin Call and A Most Violent Year working extremely well for me. Oscar Isaac is the main protagonist of the film and not Ben Affleck. It is basically a project with A-List actors working on B Grade sensibility material. That is not to disparage it as it is quite self aware about what they are aiming for and it is a lot of fun to watch. The action set pieces works extremely well and the pace changes are handled nicely.

The locations it is shot at are quite gorgeous and it could have been a nice theatre experience. I guess we should be glad that it got made at least. Moral dilemmas that some of the characters go through seems quite tacked on surface level bullshit but that is alright if you are watching it as a fun action film. People tend to rate non-arty biggish budget Netflix films with prejudice as if they were not good enough to get a big theatrical release anyway.  I do think they got a hit on their hands with this.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sunshine in) (2017)

Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Claire Denis, Christine Agnot
DOP: Agnès Godard
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine
Language: French

Isabelle, a Parisian artist, divorced mother, is looking for love, true love at last.

It is the least Claire Denis film that I have watched of hers. She has never worked with Juliette Binoche before and you get the feeling that she is having fun with what you can call Binoche kind of films with this. It is an adaptation of Roland Barthes' 1977 text 'A lover's discourse: Fragments'. The takes are super long and camera dances between characters who are conversing, especially in that first one at the bar. Isabelle is middle aged and quite desperate to find the true love after divorcing the father of her daughter. She also come off as quite naive. Gerard Depardieu makes a cameo at the end as a heartbroken psychic who Isabelle consults instead of a therapist. It is probably Claire Denis making a point that there is no point at all.

It is a pretty good watch without being all that great. Claire Denis' next release is an English language science fiction film set in space. Can't wait!

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Green Book (2018)

Director: Peter Farrelly
Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Bryan Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly
DOP: Sean Porter
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South. It is based on the real life relationship between Tony 'Lip' Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley and is part written by Tony's son Nick. The Green Book in the title refers to a hand book for blacks listing down the motels and hotels where they can stay while traveling down the South.

It is basically a feel good story done right without showing the Italian as a full blown bigot near the beginning of the film. His behaviour is realistic for the era it is set in. The performances from both the lead characters are excellent with Viggo Mortensen having more to chew on. Mahershala Ali is so eloquent and polished in real life that he is kind of playing a version of himself in the role. Film attracted considerable controversy in the run up to the academy awards which I guess is part of the mud slinging that goes on during that time of the year. I am glad it won the best picture award ahead of Roma, which was literally dog-shit. I really don't get the white saviour criticism that is levelled at it since both characters in it undergo some transformation. Film worked for me because the musician is not portrayed as a binary character without flaws.

I guess some of the hate it attracts is because the director is known for films like Dumb and Dumber. This is kind of his first 'serious' movie but it also has considerable humour mainly because of the chemistry between its leads. It is filmed quite traditionally and is elevated by good old acting performances. Mahershala Ali won his second academy award, for best actor in supporting role, the same night as True Detective season three aired its finale episode. He is surely gonna win an Emmy for that more challenging role as well.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Favourite (2018)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone

In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weiz), governing the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah initially and then the Queen. This eventually makes Sarah and Abigail rivals competing to be the favourite of the Queen.

The film works like a love triangle where the love in it is questionable. You broadly know where it is going after the initial set up itself and that in no way comes in the way of your enjoyment of it. The three main characters are based on historical figures. Even though it is set in period, the dialogues and accents used are quite contemporary, like in The Death of Stalin, and the camera is used in a very peculiar manner with fishbowl lenses. It is very funny but the central character in it is quite a tragic figure. The decisions made on matters of state are quite arbitrary very much depending on the mood of person. The European monarchies became genetically so weak due to the incestuous nature of marriages between them and you can see that when you look at their representatives from the contemporary times.

All the recent Lanthimos films did have an animal species name as part of their title while this film ends with a scene which dissolves into a bunch of rabbits. It is the most straight forward of the films that I have watched of his. That tend to happen usually for the directors you are a big fan of, their least interesting work becomes the one they are most famous for as they are much more accessible for a general audience. Olivia Coleman deservingly won the academy award for her role in this and gave the best acceptance speech from this year's ceremony. So glad to see the Peep Show girl winning an Oscar.

Rating: 4.25/5